Ringers’ dinner

Last year I volunteered to host a Christmas dinner for our troupe of bellringers at Daybrook St Paul’s. We all agreed that while it would be a Christmassy meal, it would be much too difficult and expensive to get it in our diaries for December, so decided to try for January instead. And rather than go out for a meal, I volunteered to host.

I’ve been getting excited about it for months. I initially thought it would be an interesting way of having a second go at mass catering in my house after a friend’s vegan supper club  over five years ago. I bought a spare table and thought I could sit 14 and started to think about the logistics of cooking so much. I bought tablecloths that turned out to be way way too big and ended up using my old  but lovely ones. I used the day to day charity shop crockery and a bit of the tea set for desserts.  I bought new tart moulds to be able to make a lot of cheesecake and not fill the fridge up too much.

Ringing dinner Feb 17

In the end we had a much  more manageable 8, the core team of ringers, and we could sit around one table and use the new trestle as a buffet table again.

There were aspects of the food where my mind was still on a larger number, so I massively overcatered and there are a lot of leftovers.

We had young people and drivers represented, as well as vegetarians so there were some menu challenges, but quite quickly I settled on…

Mulled apple juice

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Oven roasted apples – deglaze the pan on the hob to get the natural caramel flavour out.

Crudités and hummus (no caramelised onion hummus when I shopped, natch 😦

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Bit unseasonal here.

Bruschetta of sorts – Aldi’s jars of antipasti, one each of sundried tomatoes and roasted peppers, blitzed to make a pâté and spread on toasted baguette slices with an additional whole piece of pepper or tomato as a garnish.

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Main was jacket potatoes with a variety of toppings – beans, cheese, sausages, vegetarian sausages, coleslaw, carottes râpées.

Ringing dinner Feb 17

I have not used the food processor so much in ages! Grated carrots, cabbage and cheese in huge quantities. There is no need to make a whole cabbage of coleslaw for only 8 people, there is so much surplus!  The recipe was cabbage, carrots, 2 apples, 1 onion with a dressing of mayo, Dijon mustard and a little cider vinegar, salt, pepper, dried Italian herbs.  The carrot salad was carrots, sultanas, sunflower seeds with a lemon juice / olive oil dressing.

For dessert I used the rectangular tart moulds from Lakeland to make two cheesecakes. A slight wasted opportunity here – I could have made two different flavours – but the one was easier. Simple lemon cheesecake with four ingredients – 2 packets of Speculoos biscuits blended in the food processor, 160gr butter melted, and the base packed into the frame

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Chill for at least an hour, then mix 500gr mascarpone with a whole jar of lemon curd (411gr!) and spread on the top.

With the old Queer Eye for the Straight Guy maxim, “if it’s not garnished, it’s not finished” I liberally decorated with monstrously unseasonal berries and served on an Ikea bread board:

Ringing dinner Feb 17

More mascarpone ideas.

Coffees and chocolates – a box of Aldi Choceur Mint Selection, which I really enjoyed but don’t seem to have been eaten much by others.

I got my 10,000 steps wandering around my house cleaning and tidying and cooking, but really enjoyed putting a meal together for friends. I must do this more often 🙂

I also injured myself hanging fairy lights. They were in my front window for Christmas and I really like the warm glow they provided, so I decided not to put them away but hang them more permanently in my living room.

Unfortunately to hang them I decided to stand on a chipboard desk that couldn’t support my weight, so I fell through it. I have a huge graze and bruise on the back of my thigh, and the wrist I landed on is quite painful and I can’t lift anything with it.  This came on top of falling over hard on slippery mud in the garden one morning this week as I went down in the dark to feed the chickens before dawn. Add in a minor car accident as well and everything hurts!

Still, the fairy lights look lovely!

Ringing dinner Feb 17

Ringing dinner Feb 17

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A light lunch

After a few days in the bosom of my family I returned home, dropping father in Leominster and heading on to Nottingham, where I arrived late on the 27th – after the larger supermarkets had closed. I knew I was planning to cook for my dere friends and their darling children for lunch the following day and so I had to stock up in a little late night supermarket on the way home. Which affected my purchases somewhat as things I wanted weren’t there.

No harm done at all – plenty of food available and consumed and interesting stuff at that.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

We had mulled apple juice – forgot to offer the grownups an enlivening shot of crab apple vodka!

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

I made fondue (melted half a tub of cream cheese into a cup of white wine and added cups each, roughly, of grated cheddar and gruyère) the night before and reheated in the morning.  Accompaniments of crudités, chunks of salami and saucisson sec and some dry toast chunks.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

There was a plate of plain ham sandwiches which looked like an awful lot but mostly went 🙂

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

For afters, there was shop bought yum yums, rocky road,

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

and a version of the weekly nutribullet banana loaf with a not entirely successful cream cheese frosting. The cake I now make pretty much by eye – my scales broke ages ago or the battery ran out – so I just dump stuff in the blender to try and get the right consistency. I don’t use butter any more, it’s pretty much as good if you just use veggie oil, and easier to store.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

After lunch we went for a walk in Wordthorpe Park, and came back to play a couple of quick card games – Game of Thrones: Hand of the King and a rather cutesy foresty one, where you have to grow a tree, called Kodama.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

Blimmin cold! Barely over freezing all day, and the heating has been working hard.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

My present to myself this year was a cheap but sturdy trestle table with matching benches. This means I can now seat about 14 for a meal in my conservatory, especially if I borrow chairs – but the new table with a cloth over it was ideal for a smaller gathering too to stop the dining table getting too congested.

Caples Christmas lunch 2016

Food I considered but didn’t make: Mincepie pinwheels – I have mincemeat in stock but couldn’t find puff pastry in the smaller supermarkets.  I looked for frozen sausage rolls, but found none. I rather liked this list of quick festive food, especially the parmesan carrot fries and the fast German mousse

 

Vegan afternoon tea

Friends of mine were looking for an excuse to meet, and were thinking about visiting one of my awesome neighbourhood cafés The Crimson Tree. But I have tea set, I have cooking skillz *uh* vegan afternoon tea.

Of my friends, I had a veggie, a vegan-who-eats-tuna, and someone who is with child, which presented slight fun on the catering front, and I though I would try where poss to make everything as vegan as possible, then everyone could eat it.

With a bit of warning, I was able to cook some things in advance. The vegan shortbread had gone into school for a taster earlier in the week, and I managed to make a vegan cake early on Saturday morning.

To add to the complication my weekend was quite busy: I spent almost all of Saturday behind all three of the cider bars at the Robin Hood Beer Festival. By the end of the day I had excellent product knowledge of the full range of ciders and perries on offer and Sunday morning, I was not quite ready to leap out of bed at 8AM to start hoovering.

I got out all the food I had planned, but my dining chairs were slightly cat-hairier than desirable. (The cats rather like sleeping on the dining chairs under the table, and to be honest, months pass when only the cats use the dining furniture. To mitigate this I keep bags-for-life on some of the chairs to dissuade feline encroachment and on the others I flip the seat pads so they are not sitting where people sit.)

A day on Saturday out of the house, and catering for a 2pm kick off made timing a sourdough loaf a little interesting. In the end I made the leaven at 11am on Saturday, went to the festival, made a dough at midnight and allowed it to prove all night. I knocked it back and put it in the banneton at 10am Sunday and sat it on the hob with the oven on beneath it at 50deg to take some of the chill of my unheated kitchen off. It went in the oven at 1315 and came out shortly before 1400 ever so slightly raw on the bottom.

What do vegans eat in sandwiches? Last time I did an afternoon tea, over five years ago, I did ham and cheese, and tuna. Last time I fed sandwiches to this group of people we were still only veggie so I made egg mayo. This time a little more challenging.

Vegan afternoon tea

Cucumber sandwiches with sunflower spread. Peeled and sliced cucumbers with salt and pepper. Unfortunately the Aldi shop done barely minutes before the guests arrived had not found a fully vegan spread, and the sunflower stuff had traces of whey in it.  Should have just stuck to actual butter!

Caramelised onion hummus and grated carrot. I’m a huge fan of caramelised onion hummus and was delighted to find it in Aldi too. The grated carrot hides extra veg in your sarnie and adds some texture. I think the idea came from the Archers originally – it was an organic lunch that Pat Archer made.

Antipasto pâté Smørbrød. Another use for the nutribullet. Blitz a handful of sundried tomatoes, chargrilled peppers and green olives, all from jars, in just enough of the oil to make the thing work.  This was absolutely delicious and I shall be doing it again, vegans or no vegans.  Served as open sandwiches.

Vegan afternoon tea

Vegan shortbread. This recipe, but a great deal simpler. I bought a bottle of coconut oil a few years ago after having read about butter coffee and some other alternatives. I have never quite managed to blitz coconut oil into coffee before heading to school, mainly because it’s solid at room temperature, and I bought it in a bottle. So this was finally a use for it. The entire recipe was 250ml coconut oil, 3 cups plain flour, 3 cups dark brown sugar, mix, chill, bake at 150 deg for 50 minutes.

Vegan choc fruit loaf. One of the many iterations of my now almost weekly nutribullet fruit cake. Blitz two bananas, two pears topped and tailed but otherwise not peeled or deseeded, two heaped tablespoons of cocoa powder, half a bag of dark brown sugar, a good dollop of desiccated coconut, and since, I wasn’t using eggs, a dollop of golden syrup. This was too stodgy for the nutribullet to turn properly so needed some water as well.  Pour out into a bowl and add a teaspoon of baking powder and enough desiccated and SR flour to get to a stiff dropping consistency, along with a handful of cocoa nibs for texture, then bake in a 2lb loaf tin at 170 deg for over an hour, until a skewer comes out clean, covering with a foil couche halfway through to stop the top burning.  Sorry for the vague recipe, but my scales have been broken for weeks and my baking is increasingly approximate.

Vegan afternoon tea

Also all the table: Aldi iced finger buns (traces of whey). Ikea gingerbread Christmas biscuits (traces of milk), Italian nougat brought by a guest, fruitbowl (untouched) elderflower gin, crab apple vodka, bottle of champagne, coffee, tea. A roundly admired beautiful spotty teapot made by my friend The Purple Potter.

Project Dressing Room

Now that I live alone I have a spare room that was previously P’s office. It’s only barely big enough for a bed and was a box room when we bought the house ten years ago. I wasn’t entirely sure how to use the space when he left it entirely empty and beautifully clean, but my thoughts had been edging towards turning into a dressing room, or a giant walk-in wardrobe.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I could do this. I wondered about getting someone to build something simple out of scaffolding poles and MDF to make boxes – I’m a big fan of shelves for clothes rather than drawers. My clothes until now had been living in a mix of built-in wardrobes and open rails from Argos in the corner of my office. I’d recently innovated so that things that didn’t need to hang lived in cheap Ikea laundry baskets on the floor of the built in wardrobes.

Clothes baskets

A more expensive solution would have been a pair of Ikea wardrobes with all the fixtures and fittings. Two problems – one, it wouldn’t be impossible to end up spending a grand doing that and two, P had a wardrobe up against the external wall and it led to damp and mould.

This mould is where a wardrobe was next to the wall. What's going on here and how do I stop it?

That took about a year – he’d had worse problems before with more furniture closer to the walls. This is an old, single skin brick house and that room has two external walls.

I’d spent a couple of months wondering about it and idly googling, but everything I’d found so far was high-end, luxury spec sort of thing – because I suppose most people with the space for a dressing room are not short of a bob or two.

What made the difference in terms of getting the answer I wanted out of google was to add the search term “warehouse” – this mean the answers I was getting were a bit more high-volume, low-price and less hand-burnished rosewood with a mahogany trim.

The company Shopfitting Warehouse was what popped first and they had a whole series of chrome garment rails that are intended either for warehouse or shopfloor, but which are very well priced and don’t look cheap. They fixed almost all of the problems – free standing, so can stand away from the wall to allow airflow and to check and clean the mould if necessary. They can easily be moved around the house into other positions if necessary. Very easy on the budget. Modular, so I can configure them exactly how I want them. I ordered a couple of units on the last day of term and they were delivered bright and early on the first day of the holidays. I’d built them and put all of my clothes onto them within 90 minutes.

Project Dressing Room

Project Dressing Room

Project Dressing Room

I can’t quite get a picture showing both units together because the room is so small I can’t stand far enough away. But I am distinctly chuffed. I have more clothes storage space than I have ever had and more than I need, even for the obscene amount of shirts I own. And all for less than £200.

Project Dressing Room

Project Dressing Room

(Now to go and get 15 shirts back from the cleaners and drop off another 15, and do two loads of washing. Hmm, that will fill some of the spaces…)

My experience hosting a supperclub

(File this one under “things I should have blogged months ago!”)

In November last year, just over a year after I opened our doors for CDWM, we hosted a supper club in our house.

We weren’t cooking, we were hosting for my vegan chef friend who used to blog here but is presently on hiatus.

I think it was a good evening. We had an interesting blend of people, who enjoyed our chef’s food. Our guests were a mix of vegans and not. For an evening, we had a house full of people who had never been here before.

In order to get the house ready we had spent about a week tidying clutter away, and I spent the Saturday hoovering, dusting and laying tables. Our guests didn’t seem disgusted by the state of our house, but then, as we learned on Come Dine With Me, they don’t usually express their disgust to your face! (And they weren’t allowed in as many rooms as the CDWM guys!)

Some things I learned:

* if I borrow a table and six chairs, I can easily seat 16 people for dinner in our house.

* We already have enough cutlery, crockery, glassware, candles, table linen without borrowing any more (!)

* in November, we need to run the heating all day to get the house tolerably warm

* if you deadbolt the kitchen door and put a camping table up against it you can get an extra prep surface. But it will be uncomfortably low down.

Some things that were hiccoughs along the way:

Boiling enough water to feed gnocchi to 16 people takes a looong time. They had to be cooked in separate batches because some of them were gluten free, so we needed two pans of boiling water. The gnocchi had been made ahead and frozen and needed to be plunged into large pans of boiling water. Getting 20l of water to the boil in a domestic kitchen is a time consuming challenge.

The second thing that held us up was plate warming. This is all the more important in our house because our kitchen is unheated and the cupboards fix directly to the walls. In winter, some of our cupboards are colder than our fridge. Our plates are often icy. There’s no point getting the food good and warm if you then By the time we needed warm plates, the oven was very hot cooking puff pastry, and the sink was full of used pots and pans. We actually warmed plates in the end by wetting them and microwaving them, all the while worrying this might break them.

Two of our guests were the hosts of North Nott’s Clarkies Supperclub (last few spaces remaining at their April event!). We had been worried they might be hostile to competition, but that wasn’t the case at all. It seems there is plenty of market share available for another supper club in the Nottingham neck of the woods – in fact there doesn’t appear to be any other one currently running anywhere in the East Midlands. The Clarkies have said they are keen for others to set up just so they have an opportunity to go and eat out instead of hosting for a change.

They had suggestions for the platewarming problem – buy a hostess trolley. They’re pricey new, but there does seem to be a steady supply of really cheap ones on eBay.

Which leads me to my conclusion. Would I do this again? Is it worth buying a hostess trolley off eBay? So far, I only have experience of hosting and not cooking. At our last event, our chef partner did all the cooking, devised the menu, and did all the publicity, mostly through the very obliging Nottingham Vegan website. I’m not sure I could cook as well as our chef, nor present the food as well, nor work out such an interesting menu.

Certainly working as a teacher I could not run an event in term time, as the prep and publicity would take too long. Do I want to spend half terms hosting a restaurant in my house?

If you do it regularly, it does seem to take over your house a little. In her book, Kerstin Rodgers confesses she’s had to move her entire life into the bedroom of her flat as her sitting room is dominated now by tables and chairs. In conversation with the Clarkies, it seems they have had to give over a spare bedroom to holding the folding chairs, tables, extra dinner services and linen they need.

Do you ever make any money from it? We were on a profit share basis with our chef partner and at the end of the evening divvied up the takings. And we got a nice handful of tenners in return for our efforts. We had incurred some cost – heating, and professional help in cleaning up ready for our guests – so we comfortably broke even. But the temptation to buy ever more things to make the evening go better – cooking kit, serving kit, must mean if you do it regularly, you incur costs. Would it ever get to the point where you made money? I doubt it. I guess most people who do it, do it for the love of food and the interesting times you end up with.

Will we do it again? I have not ruled it out forever, but I am sure as heck going to try and get teaching a bit more sorted out before I have another go myself. So certainly ruling it out for PGCE year and (hopefully) NQT year to summer 2013.

Your gardening suggestions please…

… for things you can plant, that need next to no looking after, that yield an edible crop, year after year.

Rhubarb would be an obvious one, I think. Both of us think we don’t like rhubarb, but it could just be we didn’t like it as children and haven’t properly revisited our opinion in adulthood. Then there’s the worry of the “poisonous” leaves – Wikipedia says it would take the average adult 5kg of disgusting bitter leaves to get a lethal dose.

Raspberry canes might be another? I think you’re supposed to cut them down at the end of the season, but I’m sure I remember some self-seeded ones in my grandfather’s garden that did nearly as well as the highly-attended-to ones in the fruit cage.

We do have an elder tree which yields lovely flowers for elderflower cordial around this sort of time each year. This year, I’m also planning to have a go at elderflower vodka as well for something tasty to last a little longer.

We’ve no room for any more trees, and we have far more shaded parts of our garden than sunny, because of all the trees around the edges.

We have a few seedlings that have been kindly donated this year, which is more than we have managed in the past. If we manage to get them past the highly dubious stage where the local slugs eat out all the growing shoots, that will be a minor miracle.